Werner Herzog’s movies, which have run towards documentary these last few years, are always about more than they’re about. He’s a guy who likes to ask big questions (like why, if ants are evolved enough to milk aphids, chimpanzees don’t ride around on goats) and usually can find with his camera a great platform for exploring those questions. “Grizzly Man” was a great example; far more than simply being a film about a crazy guy who hangs out with grizzlies in Alaska, it delved into what civilization is, why we’re fascinated with the wild, how human relationships work, and what is worth living for. Truly a haunting piece of work.
However, “Encounters at the End of the World,” Herzog’s latest, never really seems to find traction with its deeper questions. He keeps taking stabs at them — they have to do with man’s place in the larger timeline of the earth, as well as what people find fulfilling and/or fascinating, but they all seem to be dead ends, shallow, separate observations that never seem to connect or add up into anything. There are definite moments when it feels like he’s trying too hard, like the stoner philosophers you knew in college; they say something obvious, and then sit and look thoughtfully into space, waiting for you to realize just how profound they’ve been.
There are some beautiful shots of ice, snow, and strange underice creatures, though. And the film’s dedicated to Roger Ebert, which is about the highest achievement a film critic can hope for, I’d think.